The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down by Haemin Sunim: Notes & Summary

Front cover of The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down by Haemin Sunim.

In short

The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down is a collection of Zen Buddhist wisdom written by the “Twitter Monk” Haemin Sunim (see his account here). It’s a guide to becoming more mindful in a busy world, and is divided into different sections such as relationships, passion, life, the future and spirituality. Don’t expect a clear story of thesis though, it really is a book full of short reflections.

Book Summary & Notes


‘There is a famous Buddhist saying that everyone appears as buddhas in the eyes of the Buddha and everyone appears as pigs in the eyes of a pig. It suggests that the world is experienced according to the state of one’s mind. When your mind is joyful and compassionate, the world is, too. When your mind is filled with negative thoughts, the world appears negative, too. When you feel overwhelmed and busy, remember that you are not powerless. When your mind rests, the world also rests.’

‘We know the world only through the window of our mind.
When our mind is noisy, the world is as well.
And when our mind is peaceful, the world is, too.
Knowing our minds is just as important as trying to change the world.’

‘If you’ve been unable to change a bad situation after many attempts,
you should change how you look at the situation.
Nothing is inherently good or bad.
Good or bad is always relative.
Compare your situation with someone’s that is worse.
Now yours does not seem so bad after all.’

‘When you are stressed out, be aware of your stress.
When you are irritated, be aware of your irritation.
When you are angry, be aware of your anger.
As soon as you become aware of these feelings you are no longer lost in them.
Your awareness allows you to witness them from the outside.
Awareness is inherently pure, like the open sky.
Stress, irritation, and anger can temporarily cloud the sky, but they can never pollute it.
Negative emotions come and go like clouds, but the wide-open sky remains.’

‘I wish you could see my true nature,
Beyond my body and labels,
there is a river of tenderness and vulnerability.
Beyond stereotypes and assumptions,
there is a valley of openness and authenticity.
Beyond memory and ego,
there s an ocean of awareness and compassion.’

‘To keep doing your work for a long time, do not treat is as just work.
View it as a source of enjoyment and growth.
The road to happiness lies not just in finding a good job,
but also in learning to enjoy what you are asked to do.’

‘Do not turn something trivial into a major source of agony by wasting time and energy thinking about it endlessly.’

‘If I had to summarize the entirety of most people’s life in a few words,
it would be endless resistance to what is.
As we resist, we are in constant motion trying to adjust,
and yet we still remain unhappy about what is.

If I had to summarize the entirety of an enlightened person’s life in a few words,
it would be complete acceptance of what is.
As we accept what is, our minds are relaxed and composed
while the world changes rapidly around us.’

‘Remember that you are neither your feelings nor the story your minds tells about you to make sense of them. You are the vast silence that knows of their emergence and their disappearance.’

‘Within each of us, there is an inner witness
quietly observing what goes on inside and outside of us.
Born from a place of silence and wisdom,
even when the word churns up a storm of emotions,
the witness sits calmly in the eye of the storm,
unharmed, luminous, and all-knowing.’

‘If you wish to clear away the clouds of your thoughts,
simply keep you mind in the present.
The clouds of thought linger only in the past or the future.
Bring your mind to the present,
and you thoughts will rest.’

‘Life is like theatre. You are assigned a role.
If you don’t like the role,
keep in mind that you have the power to re-create the
role you want.’

‘The toll of a bell is heard far and wide only when the
bell is struck hard.
Your influence won’t spread far without the sacrifice of
hard work.
The world notices your efforts more quickly
than you think.’

‘The most dangerous people
are those who have passion but lack wisdom.’

‘Maturity comes with experience. One lesson of maturity is that we should not take our thoughts too seriously, and must learn to curb our ego and see the bigger picture.
Being right isn’t nearly as important as being happy together.’

‘Do you know why that conversation is so boring?
Because we are trapped in politeness, unable to speak from the heart.
Any conversation can become interesting and lively
as soon as we start speaking with real honesty.’

‘According to the wise Confucian scholar Jeong Yak-yong (1762-1836):
“The best way to hide your wealth is to give it away.
If you are generous with your wealth,
the money that would have disappeared sooner or later
becomes an everlasting jewel, deeply engraved in the
heart of the recipient.”’

‘When you lower yourself, the world elevates you.
When you elevate yourself, the world lowers you.
When you arrive at the peak of enlightenment,
you will understand:
Your peak is the same height as your neighbor’s.
At the peak, you see everyone’s holiness.’

‘Remember this:
When you struggle to hold on to her, she leaves.
When you decide to let her go, she stays.’

‘Life is like jazz.
Much of it is improvised; we cannot control all the variables.
We must live it with panache and flair,
regardless of what is throws at us.’

“Keep your thoughts positive, because your thoughts become your words.
Keep your words positive, because your words become your behavior.
Keep your behavior positive, because your behavior becomes your habits.
Keep your habits positive, because your habits become your values.
Keep your values positive, because your values become your destiny.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

‘Knowledge wants to talk.
Wisdom wants to listen.’

‘For unenlightened people, not every day is a good day,
because they feel happy only when things happen the
way they want them to.
For enlightened people, every single day is a good day,
because they feel free knowing that nothing can take
away their wisdom.’

‘Wisdom is not something we have to strive to acquire. Rather, it arises naturally as we slow down and notice what is already there.’


Liked this? You might also enjoy Sunim’s second collection of Buddhist wisdom, Love For Imperfect Things. Or browse all book notes here.

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